Addams Family
Andrew LippaCharles Addam's Famous New Yorker CartoonsGomez from Addams Family Cartoons

Ghoulish Fun:
Andrew Lippa Pens New Musical

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, they’re all together ooky

By Bryan Langlitz, BFA ‘09

Andrew Lippa knows all about the art of versatility. Since graduating from Michigan (BM ‘87, voice and music ed), he has successfully tried his hand as a composer, lyricist, librettist, musical director, musical arranger, conductor, producer, vocalist, and even middle school vice principal.

Mind you, these are all professions that most individuals dedicate their entire lives to, rarely focusing on careers outside of their singular field. Call it versatility, call it good fortune, call it The Michigan Difference; whatever it may be, it’s working to Mr. Lippa’s advantage. His many successes stem from that rare and enviable recipe of Genuine Passion plus Supreme Talent, which he applies to everything he aims to accomplish. And he’s accomplished a lot.

In 2000, Mr. Lippa wrote the book, music, and lyrics for The Wild Party, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, winning him an Outer Critics Circle Award for best off-Broadway musical of the season and a Drama Desk Award for best music. The work itself is a prime display of musical versatility, shifting in and out of styles, as effortless and dramatic as a thrilling costume change. In 1999, he wrote three new songs for Broadway’s revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and also created new arrangements for the entire show.  Recently his music was heard on Broadway in The Farnsworth Invention, by the West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin. He is also the composer of The Little Princess, produced by TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, and off-Broadway’s john & jen.

As a producer, his recordings include You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (earning him a Grammy Award nomination), The Wild Party, Bat Boy, and Julia Murney’s solo album I’m Not Waiting. In addition, he has been the music director for Kristin Chenoweth since 1999; in 2007 he conducted and played her sold-out concert at the Metropolitan Opera House.

And what’s more? The man can sing. Really sing. As a student at Michigan, he played leading roles in musical theatre productions, including the world premiere of Sheldon Harnick’s A Wonderful Life. His vocals can be heard on many recordings, including The Sondheim Album (Fynsworth Alley) and If I Sing (PS Classics).

His truest talents, though, shine through in his musicals. Lippa’s success as a composer/lyricist may prove that variety is indeed the spice of life. The Wild Party score is red hot; his songs for the revival of ...Charlie Brown are sugar sweet; the nostalgic smile-and-sigh tunes from john & jen fall somewhere in between. As a creator of anything, it’s important to experiment, but it is rare that a person excels equally in each new style.

“What I’ve learned to do—lately—is listen to what I feel,” he explains. “Every show has its own life, its own trajectory that goes its own way. For me, the excitement of doing any show is the opportunity to reinvent myself. Rather than doing the same thing over and over, I like to try something I’ve never done before.”

His new project certainly fits the bill. He is currently writing the music and lyrics for the new Broadway-bound musical, The Addams Family, easily one of the most anticipated shows this season. The show will have an out-of-town tryout in Chicago this fall and is scheduled to open in New York in April of next year. Broadway superstars Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth headline the production as the famously macabre Gomez and Morticia Addams, almost guaranteeing the show as next season’s devilishly hot ticket.

Lippa describes the show as existing in a “texturally different universe” than any show he has worked on before. The Addams Family will draw all of its inspiration from the original Charles Addams’ cartoons for The New Yorker, rather than the more recent films or television series. As lovable as it is bizarre, The Addams Family cartoon strip offers itself as fantastic source material for creating a new musical. The characters within the family are ghoulish, romantic, playfully dangerous, wrought with cynicism, wit, and a haunting passion for family. Who wouldn’t want to make such personalities sing?

“It has a huge heart,” Lippa says of the show. “That was the first thing we underscored:  this word, family. This is the story of a family that goes through a crisis (though it is very funny), and it’s about how they deal with each other and learn to look after each other. And that’s the part of it that’s been so exciting ... It’s a wonderful challenge when your audience has a certain expectation. You want to meet that expectation, but you also want to deliver something else, something richer.”

In a way it seems fitting that his next project would be one such as this. Aside from his popularity as a composer—he has three future projects in their beginning stages kicking off as soon as The Addams Family is running—Lippa’s past shows all seem to possess some component required of this new musical:  the dark passion of The Wild Party, the cartoon cuteness of Sally Brown in ...Charlie Brown, the joys and pains of family as heard on john & jen. If you mix up all those ingredients, you start to see how The Addams Family could take shape out of this composer’s pen. You might say that Mr. Lippa is sure to deliver more than just “Bum-da-da-dum SNAP SNAP.

“We all hope audiences and critics find it as exciting as we do,” Lippa says. “I think it is incredibly funny and beautiful in a way that no one is going to expect. In many ways, that’s what our great surprise is:  it’s not just dark and funny, there’s surprise and whimsy and beauty.”

“I have to remind myself to focus on writing the show, making it as good as I can,” Lippa says, “and that I have to be relentless in improving my work. Whenever I think I’m done, I’m not. I have to go back and rethink it. Sometimes my collaborators will say, ‘Stop! Enough. It’s perfect. Leave it alone.’ But my rewrites have more to do with impulse than they do with rewriting. Initial impulse is often the right one in terms of your creativity.”

Happily, he will not be the only one shouldering the massive task of conceiving a musical. The creative team is a powerhouse combination of passionate, successful, creatively minded professionals, all with equally versatile resumes. Direction and design will be by longtime collaborators Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (Shockheaded Peter); Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice (Jersey Boys) will team up with Andrew for the libretto; Sergio Trujillo (Guys and Dolls, Next to Normal, Jersey Boys) will choreograph; and Mary-Mitchell Campbell (Broadway’s recent Company) will music direct.

“It’s thrilling,” Lippa says. “I have never felt more supported in my creative career.”

That sentiment seems to go both ways. “I love working with Andrew,” says Taye Diggs, in the original Broadway cast of Rent and in Lippa’s The Wild Party. “He is generous, caring, and a lot of fun. He’s also a genius. I look forward to working with him again.”

This show, and the many more we are bound to see born out of Mr. Lippa’s creative talent, is sure to delight. Surely it will be thrilling to watch as his career continues to unfold. With a track record like his, who knows what new territory he will next explore. One thing is certain: Andrew Lippa will head back to Broadway, again and again, proving he is truly one of “the leaders and best.” 

Bryan's head shot

Bryan Langlitz graduated from U-M in May 2009 with a BFA in musical theatre. He has performed regionally across the United States, and currently lives in NYC where he is pursuing his career as an actor. This summer he began work on his first novel, The Type That I Font In, and has recently begun working on the book for a new musical with collaborator Greg Jarrett. Bryan will be joining the national tour of A Chorus Line in January.